Valerie Plame Wilson begins her memoir, “Fair Game,” on a note of toughness: She describes paramilitary drills in which she participated as a C.I.A. trainee. Her book also includes a photograph of her as a 2 ½-year-old at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, sitting in the cockpit of an airplane with her feisty little hands on the controls.
Needless to say, the story of how her career was derailed and her C.I.A. cover blown also has its combative side. But the real proof of Ms. Wilson’s fighting spirit is the form in which her version of events has been brought into the light of day. “Anyone not living in a cave for the last few years knew I had a career at the C.I.A.,” writes Ms. Wilson (who has gone by that name since she married former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV in 1998). Once that career was destroyed, she wrote this account of her experiences as a means of both supporting herself and settling scores. She was contractually obligated to submit a draft of the book to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Publications Review Board. That draft came back heavily expurgated. She was then expected to rewrite her book so that it made sense despite many deletions.
But Ms. Wilson and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, contend that much of the censored information is in the public domain — and that the suppression of information is itself part of Ms. Wilson’s story. So “Fair Game” has been published with the censor’s marks visible as blacked-out words, lines, paragraphs or pages. The publisher amplifies the book with an 80-page afterword by Laura Rozen, a reporter, who uses matters of public record to fill in some of the gaps.
What emerges is a sense of Ms. Wilson as an ambitious, gung-ho professional, dedicated to her work yet colorful in ways no Hollywood storyteller would dare to make up. (Asked during her training what she would do if caught meeting an agent in a foreign hotel room, her proposed solution was to take off her blouse and jump into bed. “This could be fun,” she remembers thinking.) While Ms. Wilson’s text creates a guessing game about where she was educated and stationed (Which country has this proverb: “The goat’s hair needs a fine-tooth comb”?), the afterword places her in Bruges, Belgium, and a particularly fraught Athens.
She met Mr. Wilson in Washington at the Turkish ambassador’s residence though even that detail is excised from her version. The book is at its weirdest when, after Ms. Wilson mentions a woman in a Chanel suit who wheeled two Burberry-wearing pug dogs in a baby carriage, there’s a blackout of seven and three-quarters lines. After that, “Joe” has unaccountably become part of her life.
Ms. Wilson of course pays great attention to the circumstances that sent her husband to Niger in 2002. She assails claims that the trip was either a boondoggle or her idea. Beyond denying that the assignment involved nepotism, she maintains that she would have been derelict in her duty had she not relayed to Mr. Wilson the C.I.A.’s request that he go to investigate the claim that Iraq had sought yellowcake uranium in that impoverished African nation. In her own professional capacity Ms. Wilson did not find clear-cut evidence that Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Nor did she decide otherwise. She assumed that the weapons might exist because more highly placed C.I.A. officials had information to which she was not privy.
Since “Fair Game” is both a personal and political memoir, Ms. Wilson brings up one overlooked aspect of the Niger trip: It left her home with the couple’s twins, then 2 years old, and she had experienced acute postpartum depression when they were born. (“I was so high-strung, I swear that I could hear their fingernails grow.”)
Similarly, great domestic stress accompanied the news that the columnist Robert Novak had blown Ms. Wilson’s cover by publicly identifying her as a C.I.A. agent. As to precisely how that bombshell affected the Wilson household, Ms. Wilson says that her husband gave her the morning newspaper and a mug of coffee and said grimly, “Well, the S.O.B. did it,” and left the room.
“Fair Game” — which takes its title from Karl Rove’s phrase about the legitimacy of blowing Ms. Wilson’s professional camouflage — describes how intense stress wrought havoc on the Wilsons’ marriage, not to mention Ms. Wilson’s state of mind. “It got to the point where I thought if one more person suggested that I take up yoga I would run screaming from the room,” she writes. If she enjoyed anything at all about her new notoriety, it was the part about being labeled a beautiful blonde. (“I suppose that was better than an ‘ugly blonde’ — I do have an ego.”) But she powerfully evokes the disbelief, fury and uncharacteristic terror that came with being outed.
The book describes how both Wilsons found themselves professionally adrift after their “Swift-boating.” (Ms. Wilson uses that term to suggest that the smear campaign against her family was a dry run for the attacks on Senator John Kerry that soon followed.) However horrified she was to become a target of dirty tricks from the right, she felt even more betrayed when Senator Evan Bayh, a Democrat, identified himself as “agnostic” on Ms. Wilson.
How dirty did the tricks get? Ms. Wilson describes being denied protection by the C.I.A., fearing for her children’s safety, finding out that her tax returns were being audited and having been lucky enough to discover that some bolts holding the Wilsons’ outdoor deck, high above the ground, had disappeared. The Wilsons were pushed to the point of looking at ads for real estate in New Zealand. They went on a ski trip rather than witness the festivities surrounding President Bush’s second inauguration. They have since moved to New Mexico and have left Washington behind.
“My days of spelling ‘P-L-A-M as in Mary-E’ over the phone would be over,” she writes in what is this book’s biggest understatement. But however widely known she has become, Ms. Wilson has not previously revealed what it was like for her to follow the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr., known as Scooter; to be infuriated that Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, and Matthew Cooper of Time tried to protect secret sources at Ms. Wilson’s expense (“These reporters were allowing themselves to be exploited by the administration and were obstructing the investigation”); and to learn that Ms. Miller, in her notebook, had gotten her name wrong, calling her Valerie Flame (“my exotic-dancer stage name,” Ms. Wilson joked to friends). She was outraged by the extent to which she had become fodder for the gossip mill.
Citing the dismay voiced by Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, that such loose talk about an undercover agent might actually be criminal, she writes angrily: “If he was so surprised that his actions might have adverse national security implications, then he’s not smart enough to work in the White House. That goes for all the officials who thought that using my name as catnip was just playing the Washington game as usual.”
That idea of gamesmanship gives “Fair Game,” the book’s already stinging title, an even harsher meaning.